When ‘Little House on the Prairie’ Star Melissa Gilbert and Bruce Boxleitner First Met Their Age Difference Was Painfully Noticeable

Melissa Gilbert grew up with a picture of Bruce Boxleitner hanging up in her locker. In 1995, she married him. The actors have a 14 year age difference. On their first date, they talked about the first time they met. The Little House on the Prairie actor remembers staring at him all day at an event. When he left, he patted her on the head.

Melissa Gilbert and Bruce Boxleitner hold hands in Los Angeles at a screening
Melissa Gilbert and Bruce Boxleitner | Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

How Melissa Gilbert and Bruce Boxleitner met

Gilbert and Boxleitner were both on Battle of the Network Stars in 1981. The Little House actor was dating Rob Lowe at the time when she introduced herself to the How the West Was Won actor between swim races. She’d been staring at him all day.

“Bruce had said he knew exactly who I was; his then two-year-old son, Sam, who was with him, watched Little House, which he called ‘the horsey car show,'” Gilbert wrote in her memoir, Prairie Tale.

Rob Lowe and Melissa Gilbert at "Battle of the Network Stars" in 1982
Rob Lowe and Melissa Gilbert at “Battle of the Network Stars” in 1982 | Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

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At some point during the event, Boxleitner was called to leave — he had to make another appearance somewhere else. When he left, he patted Gilbert on the head.

“[He was] also wearing a Speedo,” she wrote. “That wasn’t lost on me.”

How the actors started dating

Gilbert and Boxleitner were actually set up by Boxleitner’s ex-wife. “I wish my ex-husband would date someone like you instead of the bimbos he’s been going out with,” she told the Little House star. She gave her ex Gilbert’s number and he called right away. On the phone, he asked if and when Gilbert would like to meet up for a date. She said, “right now.” So he picked her up in his convertible Mercedes and they headed to the Cheesecake Factory. That’s where the two recounted the first time they met. Gilbert remembered the interaction vividly, Boxleitner didn’t.

But one thing became clear after the actors’ first date: they shared a connection and wanted to spend more time together.

Why did Melissa Gilbert and Bruce Boxleitner get divorced?

Gilbert and Boxleitner went on to get married in 1995 (one year after she divorced her first husband, Bo Brinkman). They were married for 16 years. Together, they had one child: Michael, who Gilbert named after Michael Landon, who played her father in Little House on the Prairie.

Gilbert and Boxleitner divorced in 2011, citing “irreconcilable differences.”

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“We have loved each other for a very long time,” Gilbert said in a statement at the time. “And we share four incredible sons together.”

Today, Gilbert is married to Timothy Busfield and Boxleitner is married to Verena King.